Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's Original Sin: No Separation of Synagogue and State

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's Original Sin: No Separation of Synagogue and State

Article excerpt

A friend of mine in Warsaw told me about a Polish journalist who visited Israel for the first time. On his return he reported with great excitement: "You know what I've discovered? In Israel, too, there are Jews!"

For this Pole, Jews are people who wear a long black kaftan and a big black hat. In almost every souvenir shop in Poland, little figures like this are exhibited along with other classics like the nobleman, the artisan and the peasant.

This distinction between Israelis and Jews would not have surprised any of us 50 years ago. Before the foundation of the State of Israel, none of us spoke about a "Jewish state." In our demonstrations we chanted: "Free Immigration! Hebrew State!" In almost all media quotations from those days, there appear the two words "Hebrew state," almost never "Jewish state."

In school we acquired an ardent love for the country, the language and the Bible (which we considered the classic book of Hebrew literature). We learned to regard with disdain-if not worse-Jewish life in the Diaspora. (All this, of course, before the Holocaust.)

In 1933 I lived for half a year in Nahalal, the legendary communal village. Seeing it for the first time, I marveled at the communal hall building, the milk processing plant and the large agricultural school for girls (in which Moshe Dayan was the only male pupil). Out of curiosity I asked about the synagogue and was shown a ramshackle wooden hut. "That's for the old ones," one of the local boys told me pityingly.

One cannot understand what happened since then without knowing that in those days almost everyone believed that the Jewish religion was about to disappear, together with the Yiddish-speaking old people who still stuck to it. Poor geezers. If somebody had predicted that the Jewish religion would dominate the future state, people would have laughed.

Zionism was, among other things, a rebellion against the Jewish religion. It was born in sin-the sin of secular nationalism, which had swept through Europe after the French revolution.

Zionism rebelled against the Halakha (religious law), which forbade Jews to "ascend" to the holy country en masse. According to the religious myth, God exiled the Jews from the country in retribution for their sins, and only God had the right to bring them back. Because of this, practically all the important rabbis-both the Hassidim and their opponents-cursed the founders of Zionism. (Needless to say, these curses-some of them very juicy ones-do not appear in Israeli schoolbooks.)

Before all the international inquiries preceding the establishment of the state, delegations of Orthodox Jews appeared in order to oppose the Zionist delegations.

But David Ben-Gurion, who refused to wear a kippah even at funerals (where most atheists do wear kippahs as a gesture toward the beliefs of others), thought that it was worthwhile to get the Orthodox to join his government coalition. Therefore he promised them to free a few hundred yeshiva (religious seminary) students from military duty and to pay for their studies and upkeep, so that they would not be obliged to work for a living.

The consequences were unexpected. That little gesture has grown to monstrous proportions. Today one could man several army divisions with those shirkers from army duty. They now constitute 13 percent of the entire yearly crop of those liable to the draft. Moreover, 65 percent of all Orthodox male citizens do not work at all and live on the public purse.

The situation is absurd: the state is paying for the upkeep of a large and growing population of Torah-shielded parasites, who undermine the state. The state pays hundreds of thousands of young religious people in order to keep them from-God forbid-working. It pays them generous subsidies so they can produce more and more children (from 5 to 15 per family), most of whom will also neither work nor serve in the army. One can calculate exactly when the economy will collapse, together with the welfare-state and the "citizens' army" based on conscription. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.